■ New skills for managing old fears
■ Positive thought patterns
■ Methods for reality testing
■ Willingness to experiment
Charlie had heard a story that he didn't know whether to believe. It was just that all the other trainees on the sailboat seemed to believe that the ship had its own ghost. Ghost stories are for kids, thought Charlie, not teenagers.
For as long as Charlie could remember, he had enjoyed boats and the sea. He would look enviously at sailboats cruising by on the ocean. He looked at them in magazines, read books about sailing, and drew sailboats in the backs of his schoolbooks when he should have been concentrating in class. He had joined the Sea Scouts (which was sort of like Boy Scouts with a special interest in boats and sailing) as soon as he was old enough and he was now on this old, square-rigged sailboat for a week's training as his Christmas present from his parents.
Years and years ago, according to the story Charlie had just heard, an old-time sailor had gone crazy while on crow's-nest duty at the top of the main mast. Any other crew member sent up to relieve him of his post was attacked. In one of the scuffles that ensued the old-time sailor fell from the top of the mast to his death. His ghost, people said, still resided in the upper reaches of the rigging, attacking any solitary climber of the mast. As it happened there had been several mishaps of sailors slipping from the rigging, being buffeted by unexpected winds on their ascent, or hearing terrifyingly strange sounds through the rigging —like the scream of someone falling to his death, it was said. Consequently, none of the crew would climb to the crow's nest alone. They always escorted each other up in pairs or threes. This was an unspoken rule.
Late one afternoon, as they were approaching the harbor, clouds filled the sky as light faded with the approach of sunset. The wind howled in the rigging. Wild seas rocked the ship violently and the captain ordered all hands on deck. They needed a lookout . . . and Charlie was sent to the crow's nest. As the rest of the crew was busy preparing to enter harbor, he had no choice but to climb alone. Hooking his safety harness onto the rigging, he started the ascent. The wind tore at his clothes, the mast swayed more the higher he climbed, and the stories of the old-time sailor filled his mind. Fear struck at his heart. There might not be a ghost, he thought, but stories often have a basis of truth. Perhaps it was a bad-luck ship. The knowledge that his safety harness was securely attached didn't help ease the thoughts. The fear of falling to his death like the old-time sailor refused to leave him.
What was he to do? He could descend, but disobeying orders was a serious business on a ship and he would be the laughingstock of all the other trainees when they got into harbor. There was no other alternative, no one free to accompany him, no way around the scary situation. No, Charlie said to himself, it is something I need to do, and do alone. As he climbed on, slowly, steady step by steady step up the rope rigging, thoughts of the ghost kept coming back to him. What if he should slip from the rigging? What if he should fall to his death? What if there was a ghost, or just the ship's bad luck awaiting him?
Yet again he checked that his harness was securely fastened. He looked up at the crow's nest and he began to think how much safer he would be when he was there. He started to anticipate the calm and peace of arriving in harbor. He remembered the feeling of achievement and exhilaration he had felt on reaching the crow's nest in the company of others on calmer days during the trip. Thinking about such thoughts, he began to forget about the ghost, at least for a while.
When thoughts of the old-time sailor's ghost and questions about whether the stories were true popped back in his head, the terror again struck his heart. But Charlie had learned something: By thinking about the safety and exhilaration of being in the crow's nest, by anticipating his arrival, by realizing that he would be the tallest person on the ship when they docked to awaiting parents and friends, he found that the fear again began to subside.
The rigging trembled beneath him. If he let himself imagine it, it could almost feel as though a ghost were trying to shake him off. He didn't know whether it was the howling wind vibrating the ropes or his own fear. No, he thought, it isn't a ghost, and again began to think about reaching the safety of the crow's nest. As he climbed, the crow's nest grew closer and closer. He chose not to look back or think about what might happen if he fell, but rather to think about how much closer he was getting and how much better he would feel when he arrived. When he finally stepped from the rigging into the crow's nest, he felt a sense of relief and joy.
This is probably where our story could finish, but in reality that is not where it ends. You see, Charlie saw something that nobody else saw and couldn't see from the deck below . . . and it certainly wasn't a ghost. He lifted his binoculars to his eyes to make doubly sure. There, floating dead ahead, was a large, semi-submerged metal container that had obviously fallen from a cargo ship. Charlie called his warning, the captain ordered the helmsman to alter course, and the ship—along with all its crew—was saved.
Charlie was a hero. Not only had he saved the ship, but he had also conquered the myth of the old-time sailor's ghost seeking to destroy any solo climber on his way to the crow's nest—for himself as well as for others. He became a regular member of the crew after that, showing new trainees how to climb alone to the crow's nest without fear ofthe old-time sailor's ghost. "It's not just a matter ofcheck-ing for safety and taking it step by step," he told them, "but how you direct your thoughts. Look ahead, imagine where you want to be, think how it will feel when you arrive, and the ghost won't bother you."
And, do you know, the story they tell aboard now is different? It says that when they got to port at the end of Charlie's voyage, the ghost jumped ship and was never heard of again.
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